throwing down the gauntlet
You know, I am a laid-back person. I don't get too ruffled up about things. Like, when I trip and fall in the street, eliciting gasps from onlookers, I don't make a big deal about it. I pick myself up, dust myself off, try to push my shame deep down, and continue on with life. Yes, I try to take life as it comes.
However. Currently, right now, and for the past few hours, I have had the angry inside. Big time. Like, it's time to rumble.
Okay. So I have this discussion class that is supposed to be us sharing things about our student teaching experiences. So far, this has not happened. Last week, as I said, we discussed the prison-industrial complex. THIS week we started off class with a free word association involving the words liberal, progressive, and radical. (We don't even talk about conservatism in this class. It is definitely off the table. Not that I'm particularly conservative, but I would say there's a kind of intellectual bullying going on here). This exercise took about 45 minutes.
The only amusing part was when a girl associated "radical" with "crazy" and our instructor got pissed. He was like, "now you're just disrespecting someone's belief system." It was ridiculous. He is some kind of Marxist/socialist/radical and really does not try to hide it. Meanwhile, he tells us that we have to be careful not to indoctrinate our kids in any particular ideology when we're teaching social studies. I would say this scores low on the self-awareness scale.
So anyway, throughout this exercise I'm thinking, this is not so relevant to teaching. Usually when something is being taught, I pretend I'm about to get up in front of a class of 30 children, and I ask myself, "is this piece of information or idea going to help me in front of these kids?" If the answer is no, I feel frustrated. I would say I feel frustrated about 95% of the time at school.
I figure that I should probably say something about the angry inside me, so I raise my hand and ask, "why are we doing this exercise? I don't really understand. What does this have to do with teaching?" The instructor responds that he didn't just want to tell us the definitions of these words, because then he would be making the mistake of placing himself as the expert, thus invalidating any ideas that we had. Right.
I explained that what I had meant was, "why are these definitions important right now? How will this make me a better teacher?" Some kids raise their hands to respond. They pretty much say that these conversations are helping them to think about and formulate their political beliefs. First of all, where were they in college? Second, do you care about their political beliefs? Will the kids? I don't, that's for sure.
People seem to think that politics is important in this business. But it's not. Charter schools are supported by all kinds of people: from liberals as pink as the day they were born to conservatives who would wrestle a five dollar bill away from their mothers. If you are committed to a system that works, then you don't need politics because we know what works.
Anyway, my whole "let's get back on track" thing was totally aborted, and we continued to discuss these semantic issues. It seemed like we were wrapping up, and I hoped we could move on to something better. But then, all of a sudden, BOOM. With no warning whatsoever, we have started talking about mercantilism. Oh yes, that's right. Personally, I think a mercantilist system would totally help our ailing schools. I think the colonies that we leech from could be located on the moon.
Ok. So then we read a very inflammatory article about the "pedagogy of poverty." I won't go into it, because it was another one of those "our public schools are trying to control the students' minds. We should let them be free!" Really this is not the issue. Also, the guy says that if you want a highly disciplined school, you may or may not be a bigot. He actually used the word bigot.
We got onto the topic of cultural advantages that middle class kids have, such as listening to their parents discuss different issues, going to museums, having more books, etc. Everyone was decrying the fact that poor kids don't have the same things, and that they come into pre-K already behind. When they continue falling behind, middle school and high school teachers complain that "there just isn't enough time" to teach them, particularly with the mandated curriculum dictated by state exams.
I pointed out that, if what people were saying was correct, then that would mean that urban kids should have more time in the classroom, longer school days, and longer school years. This would allow them to catch up and give their teachers the chance to cover everything they wanted. I provided the KIPP schools as an example of a school system that does this, and gets amazing results. It works. More time in school and good instruction works.
My instructor was not pleased with this, though. He thought the idea was too "militaristic." He said, "I mean, what's the end goal?" I was flabbergasted, once again. Doesn't anyone get it? The goal is to give kids the skills and knowledge they need to choose the kind of lives they want to live. Period, end of story, I no longer want to talk to you, stupid idiot. But he has this whole notion of making people "good citizens" or getting them to "think critically" about the world. Ask yourself, what would you want for your child? Would you want her to get a great academic education and be able to do whatever she wanted, or would you want someone to teach her "how to be a good citizen" or "how to think critically"? I know, me too. And if the chips were down, my instructor would admit the same thing. The fact is that schools like KIPP are vaulting kids OUT OF POVERTY. They're giving them a fighting chance. And the concept of the schools is not that complex. Their motto is: Work hard. Be nice. And everything boils down to that in the end. There's no magic curriculum bullet. It's just hard work. This guy, this instructor, he so decries poverty and "keeping poor kids poor" and "the pedagogy of poverty" but it is HIS reluctance to accept WHAT WORKS FOR KIDS that keeps them where they are.
I really don't understand. And I'm so angry about it.